Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pointless play earns a point in the windy city Chicago 2 TFC 2

Nick Garcia poses with irate visitor from space

For a handful of seconds Saturday night, early in the second half against Chicago Fire, Toronto FC looked like a team that knows how to play this game. Gerba with the ball at the half line in traffic, rather than his usual solo struggles out in the wastelands, sent the ball out to the left wing for Dero. Dero attacked that wing and sent in a cross with real promise and pace. Chad Barrett showed a finishing touch and scored the goal, but more importantly he made a strong run to the near post in anticipation. Runs in anticipation or even runs to act as a decoy to pull and stretch the defenders were in very short supply in Chicago. Those few seconds just make you shake your head about all the other 89+minutes. If they are capable, why do we have to suffer through so much pointless play? This is a team that is playing their 27th MLS season game of 2009, with 4 Canadian games, two CCL games against Puerto Rico and two international friendlies also under their belt. Why do they look like they are stumbling through a pre-season scrimmage? Craig Forrest, throughout the broadcast, has fallen in love with the term “ring rust”. He used it everytime Brian McBride was on the screen. Toronto FC played like a team with an extended case of everywhere rust.

Overall I have to file last night’s game under the odd and dull category. Toronto FC played an overall ineffective game and yet came away from a road game in Chicago with a point. A win would have created so many more opportunities for a playoff berth, but a tie does not eliminate them. Every game of the remaining three are must wins, yet it is still possible to win all three and not make it to the post-season.

The biggest mistake I made last night was switch the channel after the game. I stumbled on the Blackburn v Aston Villa game on Setanta Sports. The speed of play, the way players with the ball instantly seemed to have a plan and those off the ball seemed to be playing their part in that plan at incredible speed was, after plodding through Chicago v TFC, astonishing.

Sometimes you wonder just what Gerry Dobson’s vision and vocabulary is connected to. He described the first half as entertaining. I thought that the Dero goal was a matter of taking advantage of Chicago’s botched ball handling in the back and Nick Garcia came up with an own goal that was truly awful. I can recall no exciting shots or saves, both teams showed substandard ball control and I have experienced more excitement at a “watching paint dry” festival. Perhaps Dobson has lower standards.
For that matter, I am not at all sure that I understand Chris Cummin’s vision and vocabulary . I do understand that it is an adjustment period, that plopping de Guzman into the midfield is not going to click overnight. Yet, it is hard to cheer for a team in such a big overhaul mode when the success of the season hangs in the balance. In LA, de Guzman and Guevara seem to be playing well together and Dero went missing. In Chicago, Dero comes on strong and it's de Guzman and Guevara (to a lesser extent) who move into the invisible category. I thought that Emmanuel Gomez had shown enough size, skill and energy against Seattle and Puerto Rico in August that he should at least be a defensive substitute. If Carl Robinson is healthy enough to play, surely having him play in a central defending role is better than another Nick Garcia appearance.

It is a good thing that we fans now face a two week gap in the schedule. TFC does not take the field again until the home game on the Thanksgiving weekend. Please TFC, I want my Saturday to be turkey free.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

de Guzman debuts in Hollywood (well, Carson), but Beckham does the shining LA 2 TFC 0

I was just settling down to watch the action and "bam" -Beckham waltzed in to open the scoring while the game was very young. Up until that flurry of LA's, Toronto had looked promising. Julian de Guzman had plenty of time on the ball and he did not look like he was surrounded by strangers.
Toronto highlight of the first half was Gerba's close range shot that LA keeper Ricketts stopped. It was de Guzman who passed to Gerba, but I don't think Gerba got the contact he wanted.
LA always looked lethal on the attack, Beckham hit the post on a shot that had beaten Frei late in the half.
Toronto started the second half with some energy, some pep. Chad put Ali Gerba through and he hit the crossbar. There was a lot of pass with little penetration, the same old TFC story.
Then Beckham to Donovan to Buddle lead to the second LA goal.
I'll try not to get too sour, but it was clear that I was cheering for the second best team tonight. Julian de Guzman showed skills, but faded in the second half, which is understandable. White was put in for Chad and made an effort, but the other subs were a waste, Fellinga and Vitti don't seem to mean scoring chances.
This loss does not kill the playoff hopes, but it does make the uphill climb steeper. At least a point in Chicago next Saturday seems to be the requirement. This road game was not at the level of stinker such as Real Salt Lake or Colorado, but no credit is given when no points are gained.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Toronto finds scoring touch - TFC 3 Colorado 2

Saturday’s home game against the Colorado Rapids turned out to be a spectacular day. The weather was glorious, sunshine beaming down, a few clouds scattered across the sky and only the faintest of wind off the lake. You had to look past all this beauty of a late summer day, since it was conspiring to cover the fact that this was a desperate “back against the wall” sort of game. Toronto FC badly needs victories and points to qualify for the playoffs and a home loss would make their long shot chances even longer.*

It was an odd pre-game in terms of the line-up. Carl Robinson went down during the warm-up. Danny Dichio was being saluted as a retired player**. Julian de Guzman, designated player and designated season saver was not playing as his transfer papers were somewhere in a dusty drawer in Spain.

So Amado Guevara took on the holding midfielder role, which I think is a positive as Guevara is more willing to drive the ball forward, through both dribbling and penetrating passes, than Carl Robinson. Although it was announced as a 4-4-2, it became a 4-5-1 with Chad Barrett out wide as a left winger and Ali Gerba as the sole striker. DeRo was playing in behind or in between those two. TFC started on the tentative side and it took them some time to get into an attacking mode. I suspect that there was a Casey/Cummings fear haunting the TFC players until they got going.
DeRo opened the scoring, showing his power and his touch as he gathered, turned and fired. A deflection off of a defender’s leg helped the scoring arc of the ball, yet it was DeRo’s quick turn and fire that made it happen.
It was interesting to watch the match-ups in the Toronto end in the first half. Clearly TFC wanted Attakora to be on the swift Cummings, while Colorado only had eyes on a Cummings/Brennan or a Cummings/Garcia situation. For the most part Toronto’s wishes were coming true.
The other highlight of the first half was watching the Fieldturf and knowing it’s on it’s last legs. The growing prospect of real grass for 2010, c’mon City Council! , could mean plastic turf gone before Christmas. May I be the first to enquire about a souvenir patch for my basement sports bar welcome mat??
Then early in the second half Conor Casey scored for the Rapids. I am guilty of hindsight, but the size of our defenders, in this case Wynne and Garcia, puts the onus on the keeper to be off his line knocking away the looping cross that Casey headed into the net. There are games when you forget that Frei is a rookie, so the rare rookie gaffe can be forgiven.

It was all Toronto attack after that. There were some real chances to score. I thought that Ali Gerba had played his role well and only fate had prevented him from scoring. So no knock against him that the scoring came after his substitution. It clearly was a good strategy to bring on O’Brien White as a fresh striker as he scored the next Toronto goal. Then Attakora sealed the game with a header off of a corner kick.
I will gloss over the dreadful goal that Colorado scored to make the game close when they had no real right to be in Toronto’s time zone at that point.
The shot that DeRo took late in the game that hit the post was a rocket that should have found the corner. There was also a late game move that DeRo pulled down the right wing that I would love to see again on video. I have trouble describing it, it happened right below and it surprised me. I don’t think it was a back heel, but somehow DeRo looked as if he was moving to his left and then the ball squirted the other way onto Guevara’s feet. More of that next week and we will be celebrating the destruction of the LA Galaxy.

* I have fallen in love with the site Sportsclub Stats as it gives you the playoff implications of every game from the perspective of any team. Yesterday’s victory moved the TFC playoff chances from 16 to 30%. Most of the results from yesterday, other than the Seattle victory over DC United (a tie would have been the best thing for TFC) were good news. A victory next week over Los Angeles is a fantastic result as it will provide a huge boost to the chances. If you scroll down the page you see all the possible outcomes for the remaining 5 season games. I have personally picked the 5 victories method.

** I have avoided posting a retrospective or a salute to Danny Dichio on the blog because I do not believe this “retirement” for a second. I am convinced that I will see Danny Dichio play for TFC again. He has one more goal in him. I consider this all a roster/salary cap ploy and shifting DD to a coaching role means that he is still in Toronto and available for emergencies. I only go as far as calling it semi-retirement. We know that the agreement between players and teams is to be negotiated in the offseason and who knows what salary cap rules and roster stipulations will be in place for 2010? Even this year, if you dream on the large side, should Toronto make a playoff run and encounter a combo of success and injuries, I see Dichio on the field again (I am starting a psychic hot line for TFC fans). I will salute his playing contributions then and only then.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Julian de Guzman signs for TFC

Friday September 11th, 2009 was the day that Toronto FC announced the signing of their first designated player, Julian de Guzman. This has been rumoured for so long that it is difficult to accept this as a done deal. Yet there he is at a press conference between Mo Johnston and Chris Cummins in uniform, so it must be happening.
I admit to being at a disadvantage here, I was out of the country during the Gold Cup matches, so I have not seen de Guzman play for Canada of late. So how he will fit into the team and what this does for TFC playoff prospects are questions that dwell in my mind too, but only the remaining games will provide answers.
There seems to be doubt that de Guzman can play Saturday, his transfer papers must come through. With or without him, TFC victory against Colorado is critical.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Colorado 1 - TFC 0 Boring.Undisciplined.pathetic

Stillkicking is lost in the North Woods this weekend, so I’ll be filling in for the time being.

What is there really to say about this game? Personally I had a new experience during this one, I managed to sleep through most of the second half, something I have never done before. At least during a TFC game. Fortunately I missed both the Colorado goal and Amadou Sanyang’s second yellow. I think I spared myself extra anger and frustration.

Aside from the poor marking on the Casey goal, the defense played rather well, but with the back four accompanied by Wynne, Cronin and Sanyang in the midfield there was an awful lot of defensive experience out there. Naturally the flip side of having so many defensive players on the field is a lack of attacking players.

Now, Pablo Vitti has been improving every game, but I think the general consensus is that he isn’t yet the attacking menace we expected. Chad Barrett’s difficulties have been well documented. That left DeRo for the attack, and as much as he has been TFC’s MVP this year, he does tend to take the fate of the team on his shoulders, sometimes without the desired result. So, the attack flounders on many occasions. A question here (and I know lots of other people have been asking this) why not start Dichio and Gerba up front? Then, Barrett and Vitti are there to provide a different look and fresh legs later in the game. When does the “he did really well in training, so he should start” excuse become just so many ineffective words?

Was Cummins playing for a draw with this lineup? It seems likely. Is the possibility of one point on the road acceptable this late in the season with so much at stake? I’m not too sure. At the beginning of this three game home stand, 9 points seemed to be a real (if optimistic) possibility. Should we be disappointed with the team’s performance? Looking back, I think so, 1 out of 9 possible points doesn’t seem like a successful trip. Poor performances in Colorado and Los Angeles, and a hard luck point in Seattle were far below what this team can accomplish. What lays ahead will determine the final season outcome, will TFC gain enough points in 6 games (three at home) to flow through the bottle neck of playoff contenders, or is the chance already gone? Next week’s fixture at BMO field with Colorado will go a long way towards answering that. I just try to keep in mind that New York and San Jose are two of the final three games of the season, should be 6 guaranteed points there, right?

In other notes, if you follow Stillkicking’s blog regularly you may know that I like to follow the play of certain players on and off the ball during home games. I have been interested to follow Amadou Sanyang’s play, and was looking forward to next week’s game to watch him, I suppose that’s out for now! I can, in my mind, forgive his red card yesterday, as he is young and plays aggressively, both traits which Chris Cummins has been lauding over the last few weeks. This is the kind of thing that happens to players with aggressive streaks. Serioux’s red, on the other hand lacked the professionalism of a veteran player.

Finally, I have to address the Julian de Guzman rumour that Kristian Jack at the Score has brought back into focus. If he has indeed been signed, I have a few questions. Will de Guzman actually make a difference at this late point in the season? And, will he actually make the first team in the next 6 games because his fitness level must not be as high as some of the existing players because of his lack of playing time. I was interested to see that Carl Robinson made the trip, but not the bench. I know there is an injury concern, but will he be the one to make way for JDG?